2022 NFL draft: Five players who could be surprise first-round picks

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The lack of consensus throughout the 2022 NFL draft could create a landscape in which several prospects defy expectations as unlikely Day 1 picks.

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2022 NFL Draft: Garrett Wilson tells us his wide receiver heroes

Sports Seriously is on-site at the 2022 NFL Draft and caught up with Ohio State wide receiver Garrett Wilson ahead of the big night.


In the 2022 NFL draft, volatility could create opportunity for a few prospects.

This year’s class is widely seen as a group light on top-tier talent, with the Dallas Cowboys revealing Tuesday that they only expect to give 14-16 prospects first-round grades. But with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell calling 32 names in Las Vegas tomorrow, that very landscape and the lack of consensus among teams could lend itself to several players defying widespread expectations by becoming Day 1 picks.

With that in mind, here are five players who could end up as surprise first-round picks Thursday in the NFL draft:

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Desmond Ridder, QB, Cincinnati

Last-minute first-round hype for at least one quarterback has become an almost annual staple of the NFL draft calendar. Often, the buzz fails to amount to anything except a more painful wait on Day 2 for some signal-callers. But with Ridder, Mississippi’s Matt Corral and North Carolina’s Sam Howell, there are several candidates who could fit the bill this year. Ridder gets the nod here, however, thanks to the four-year starter’s savvy and rapid processing. The 6-3, 211-pounder might need to beat defenses by consistently outwitting them, as he lacks the arm strength to force tight-window throws. But with the Saints and Steelers potentially in the market for a ready-made starter in the middle of the first round and the Panthers and Seahawks ranking among the teams that could look to trade into the back end of Day 1 for a passer, there are several teams that could be enticed by his talents. 

Logan Hall, DT/DE, Houston

One year after Payton Turner was arguably the most surprising first-round entrant, Houston has another rangy defensive lineman whose stock looks to be on the upswing. At 6-6 and 283 pounds, Hall has a blend of length and explosiveness teams covet along the front. Though issues with his leverage and hand usage could stall his effectiveness as a pass rusher in the early going, Hall shows enough flashes of forcefulness to signal untapped upside in this area. Given the potential payoff, that’s a package for which NFL teams will be patient.

George Pickens, WR, Georgia

If not for a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered last March, Pickens might have been a virtual lock to hear his name called Thursday. The 6-3, 195-pound target boasts 4.47-second speed in the 40-yard dash even after the injury, and his deep-threat credentials are heightened by his knack for securing jump balls and contorting his body to secure receptions outside his frame. With the price tag for receivers skyrocketing this offseason, there’s ample demand for young pass catchers on affordable contracts. Pickens could be an immediate asset to a contender like the Packers or Chiefs, who each have two selections in the second half of the first round.

Travis Jones, DT, UConn

While versatility is in vogue for NFL defenses, there’s still demand for prospects who can alter game plans with an elite trait. In the case of Jones, that’s his pure strength at the point of attack. The 6-4, 325-pound nose tackle demands double teams on every down, as he otherwise will knock blockers backward to blow up the run game or collapse the pocket. And while Jones is an unlikely candidate to post sizable sack numbers, the Bengals and Buccaneers in recent years demonstrated the value of interior defensive linemen who can control the line of scrimmage and allow the defense to play with a light box. Both the Buccaneers and Packers look poised to reload up front, and Jones could be an attractive option.

Kyler Gordon, CB, Washington

The 5-11, 194-pound Gordon generated some early first-round buzz but fell off the radar a bit after he didn’t turn heads as many anticipated he would with his combine performance. Still, on the field, Gordon has proven himself as a quick-closing, fluid athlete capable of making plays on the ball and dogging receivers. His feel for the position is underdeveloped, leaving his stock well behind that of Washington teammate Trent McDuffie and the other cornerbacks seemingly destined for a top-15 selection. But he could still find a spot on Day 1 as he competes with Clemson’s Andrew Booth Jr. and Florida’s Kaiir Elam to be the fourth cornerback selected.

Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz on Twitter @MikeMSchwartz.